WWE 2K Battlegrounds (Switch) Review
The Switch is already home to WWE 2K18, a flawless masterpiece that is the pinnacle of wrestling games, so it’s debatable as to whether another spandex-filled grappler for the system is even necessary. After taking a couple of years off from Switch releases to nail the same perfection for the other modern consoles, Vince McMahon’s money train is back with a fresh arcade take on squared-circle action. The introduction of crocodiles, remote-controlled goats and the ability to make Baron Corbin actually win a match may make the wrestling action fake unlike the real thing, but there’s some good fun to be had here with mates, along with plenty of awesome opportunities to throw a few dollars at 2K as a thank you for letting you buy the game.
Ok, that may all be a touch harsh, as this is genuinely a significantly better game than 2K’s last wrestling effort for Switch. Sporting a look and feel akin to 2011’s WWE All Stars, Battlegrounds features a large roster of oddly-proportioned caricatures of past and present WWE superstars battling it out. The controls are simplified for pick up and play accessibility, making it far easier to get a handle on than other simulator-style wrestling games. You’ll only need to get your head around a few buttons for punches, kicks, blocks/parries, throws and specials, with triggers and different directions used in combination for move modifiers. It makes the action easy to get into, which is ideal given the party vibe the game is going for. The simplified controls do come at the cost of depth though, with there being a minimal discernible difference between wrestlers of the same class despite the vastly different size, styles and moves for the wrestlers in the actual WWE.
Each wrestler is classified into one of five classes that determines their strengths, weaknesses, moves and unique abilities. Powerhouse fighters throw punches like tanks and can absorb absurd punishment in exchange for a max speed of one kilometre per hour and are about as useful in the air as an elephant. Brawlers are slightly toned-down powerhouses with a fondness for testing the sturdiness of steel chairs (or heck, a motorbike) on their opponent’s head. Technicians are masters of slick throws and painful-looking submissions. High-flyers are my favourite. They’re the zippy and flippy ones that dominate in the air with snazzy jumps and impressive agility, but with about as much health as an ant drowning in the sweat pit left on the mat after a match between Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman. Rounding out the pack are the all-rounders – the jack of all trades but masters of none, much like the RAW writing team in 2020.
After settling on a wrestler, you’ll need to win your match via pinfall, submission or count-out. Landing blows on your opponent lowers their health, making it tougher for them to escape your finisher. There are a few other elements to keep an eye on during the match. A stamina bar that refills over time is required for combos, special moves, throws and for simply running. You also fill up a heat metre to land your wrestler’s signature move which can turn the tide of a match. Responding to crowd requests for certain moves also fills up a crowd bar which makes landing the final pin easier.
One of the most enjoyable and strategy-laden elements in Battlegrounds is the power-ups. You can equip a power-up for each of the three power tiers, with tough choices needing to be made about whether to use a small chunk of the power bar to bust out a weaker move early or hold off until you can unleash a devastatingly powerful third-tier power-up to try and finish the match in one fell swoop. New power-ups are unlocked as you play through the game, giving plenty of opportunity to experiment and find a set up that works for you.
The best way to unlock power-ups, along with new wrestlers and stages, is to play through the campaign. The story sees Vince McMahon wanting a 27th superyacht (probably), so he enlists the help of management mouthpiece Paul Heyman to assemble a crew of fresh-faced wrestlers and create a new league called Battlegrounds. Paul sets off around the globe with Stone Cold Steve Austin in tow to recruit some new talent. They hit up New York, Mexico, Scotland and more, with the final destination being a trip to the show of the immortals – Wrestlemania.
The story plays out through a series of comic-book panels which look decent enough, but both the presentation and the story itself are fairly bare-bones. None of the characters you play as – some heavily stereotyped fighters from their home location – are ever fleshed out with much detail to allow any level of emotional investment in the story. It’s a shame, because wrestling is as much about the story as it is about showing off strong people doing physically impressive things, and there was an opportunity to perhaps do something a little more interesting here.
At the very least the premise does set up some fun backdrops for fights. You’ll start in dingey underground subways before working your way up to sold-out stadiums, but you’ll be sure to get some giggles out of setups along the way. The first time my opponent jumped over the ropes, grabbed a remote-control and guided a chaotic goat into the ring to bowl me over I couldn’t help but smile. It’s nonsense, but it embraces the goofiness that can make wrestling as a product so enjoyable. These levels house dozens and dozens of fights, encompassing almost every style of wrestling match you can think of. You have your standard matches, steel cage matches, tag-team, gauntlet, royal rumbles…it’s all here. The change in styles helps mix things up a little, but you may still encounter some fatigue fighting very similar matches against a lot of the same opponents over and over again.
If you’re still itching for more once the campaign credits roll, you can take on the Battleground Challenge, which sees you create a custom wrestler from scratch and work through a similar web of matches. The big difference here is your character starts off about as promising as Dolph Ziggler needing to put an up-and-comer over with the crowd, so you will need to improve them by unlocking stat upgrades and new abilities via a skill tree, allowing you to customize your fighter to your style of play.
A few extra modes round out the suite. In addition to being able to create a character, there’s a robust stage creator where you can customise everything from the turnbuckles to the lights show. King of the Battleground is an online arena mode where new challengers are constantly cycled in, with the aim being to eliminate as many foes and survive as long as you can before succumbing to defeat. Lastly, there is an online tournament where you try to climb the tournament bracket to achieve better prizes.
Those prizes are Battle Bucks, which are the rewards for everything you do in the game, and it’s here where we need to talk about this game’s monetisation. Much like WWE’s fondness of treating their performers as independent contractors (despite non-compete clauses) so they don’t have to pay employee benefits such as health insurance, there’s a level of corporate greed here that is impossible to ignore.
Titles such as this that are at their best in a party-like setting live and die on not just their approachability but also their ability to remain fresh and enjoyable via plenty of options and customisation. The number of options available here from the start is disappointingly thin. Everything not available to you from the start requires either Battle Bucks or Golden Bucks to unlock. Battle Bucks are earned slowly through playing, or Golden Bucks can be purchased with real money to speed things along. Unfortunately for players, so much of the good stuff in this game is locked away behind these paywalls, and earning the free currency is a laboriously slow process.
Big names such as Triple H, Sasha Banks, Seth Rollins, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Asuka, Daniel Bryan, Drew McIntyre, Brock Lesnar and so many more are locked away. You may only need to play a few matches to earn enough money to walk with Elias into the ring but adding AJ Styles will take substantially longer. New costumes for superstars cost a similarly exorbitant amount. The customisation options for your created wrestlers are also laughably barren from the outset, with anything remotely interesting needing to be unlocked via currency. I’m not outright opposed to having to unlock things as it gives some purpose to come back and keep playing, and the ability to complete daily challenges for bonus currency is nice, but the rate of rewards is just so slow that you and your friends will long bore of the game before you fill out the roster to a satisfactory level.
It also brings up an odd point on the Switch – match rewards are bizarrely only earned when connected to the internet, which means playing this game handheld on the go isn’t advised. They don’t even stockpile for when you get back online, so if you complete a match offline you just get nothing for it. Load times can also be fairly lengthy, and some text is incredibly tiny to the point it can be difficult to read with the Switch’s lower resolution. Those minor gripes aside though, the game does run nicely on Switch at a stable framerate (at least in one on one matches, though it can dip a bit with four characters on screen), and the cartoony aesthetic helps make the loss of detail compared to the versions on more powerful consoles less noticeable. The delivery of the commentary is also pretty good, even if the calls aren’t always timely or accurate.
It’s a substantial step-up from the absolute mess that was WWE 2K18 for Switch, and there’s plenty of chaotic enjoyment that can be had here, especially if you’ve got a few friends that enjoy the acquired taste that is professional wrestling. It’s silly, it’s over the top, and it’s just a bit of mindless fun, much in the way that real wrestling is. The repetitive nature of the single-player modes means I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for solo players, and the aggressive monetisation limits the options available for party play, but there’s still a decent game of wrestling here under the hood.
+ Wrestling action is silly and fun
+ Arcade style and ensuing wacky antics suits wrestling well
+ Runs well on Switch compared a certain previous WWE Switch game
- Aggressive monetisation and paywalls on so many things is frustrating
- Solo play can get stale and repetitive
- The IIconics aren’t in the game yet